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Featured Review: Savage Race MD 2018

I had the opportunity to venture the 360 miles down to Savage Races Spring race two day event this past weekend at Hopkins Game Farm Kennedyville, Maryland. Location was easy to find, parking was plentiful and onsite for $10. At its farthest point the parking was about a five minute walk to the entrance/check in area. There was also a premium parking option for $20 and this got you within 100 feet or so of the entrance. Checking in was easy, with no large backups, and then you are directed through the merchandise tent to the festival area. The festival area was a perfect size for the approximate 3200 finishers and their spectators that were there throughout the day Saturday. However, it felt almost empty on Sunday with only about 650 finishers and respective spectators of the inaugural Blitz race. Looking around you had the start line, a small platinum rig, the awards stage with a DJ/emcee, and last obstacle/finish line at one end, then at the other end you had the port-o-johns, two BBQ vendors, a healthy/nutritional food truck, and a shaved ice vendor. To fill in the outer perimeter of the festival, in between these two ends, were the beer tent, an AIR FORCE table, Maryland National Guard table, a Maryland Air National Guard table, the Savage Syndicate tent, future race purchase tent, and a gear drop off tent. In the open area was found numerous round tables with chairs to sit at. The area was well thought out and funneled everyone’s attention to the far left in the direction of the start/finish and the DJ.

Our start time was at 10:20am, and we had three New England Spahtens make the journey to race. We were let in the starting corral about ten minutes early and they had a hype man get everyone ready for the race. After a warm-up, hyped out speech, and a 10 second countdown, we were sent off to tackle the course. The terrain is not what most from New England would expect, open flat fields, very few single tracks thru the woods. We ran for about half a mile before we encountered our first obstacle and never went that far in between after that. One thing this course does have that we do not is slow flowing river beads. These were used on several occasions. The full race clocked in at around 6.5 miles on my Garmin, just as advertised. Not too long and not too short.

The obstacles, thirty in all, were all well built and sturdy. We got to see many of the obstacles that were in Massachusetts last year including Shriveled Richard (HEHE), Big Cheese, Saw Tooth , Twirly Bird, and Davy Jones Locker among others. We also got to experience three new obstacles just introduced this year. Holy Sheets, literally a rolled up sheet traverse to four hanging balls. Pedal to the Medal, a tire drag with a twist, you lay on your back and using only your feet you “roll” in the tire. When done drag it back out to the line. And battering ram, which was the obstacle in the finishing area, and I find this obstacle is hard to explain, but as best as I may, you are suspended from a pipe via a handle and you need to shimmy down the length of pipe to make a transition to another handle and then do it all over again to a bell (which you could kick). After completion, this brought you to crossing the finish line to get your Savage race medal, which is a new design for this year, your finisher t-shirt, water, and a Trimino protein water.

We hung around for a while watching the start line, cheering on finishers, and generally listening to the music. We cleaned up, had our beer, three options were available with your participant ticket, Coors, and for a $1 up charge you could have a Blue Moon or Dos Equis. We left with smiles on our faces, knowing we were returning the next day to participate in the first of its kind race, the Savage Blitz.

When was the last time you got to do an inaugural race? When we arrived at the venue on Sunday we got to do just that. We were two of 640 participants in Savage Races new series called the Savage Blitz, a shortened version of their course. We arrived a little later than we did on Saturday, knowing that there would be less people. While getting ready we saw the top three males and the top female cross the finish line. After that, we finished getting ready and went out with our 10am start time. The Blitz race wound us around the venue in a new way than Saturday, much to my surprise, and it was fun doing some obstacles backwards from the previous day. It made you really have to wrap your head around the technique first, at least for me. The course was just over three miles by my Garmin, and it was perfect. This being what appears to be a gateway into the full Savage Race, most of the big daunting obstacles were missing, like Colossus and Davey Jones, but you did get to run by all of them and see what could have been. The three new obstacles were still on course and fun again.

Crossing the finish line for the second time in two days was amazing. Picked up our new Savage Blitz medal, Blitz specific finishers t-shirts, a water, more Trimino, and headed over to the Syndicate tent to pick up our huge (did I mention HUGE) Syndicate medal and state Axe pins. Grabbed our beers, watched some more people finish the race with huge smiles, cleaned up and made the seven hour ride home to Massachusetts.

This was one hell of a weekend! The full course was fun, and challenging at the same time. The Blitz course was great. Hopefully they will roll this out at all venues next year. Savage Race does a great job at paying attention to what racers want. Sam Abbitt, one of the cofounders of Savage, is very active on the Syndicate facebook page and is listening. I give both Races an A+, for fun factor and quality.
So New England where will you be on July 14t​ h​? I know where I will be, at Carter and Stevens Farm, running the Savage race. I hope to see you all there.

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Featured Review: Wason Pond Pounder 2018

Wason Pond Pounder has been a part of Race Local since the beginning. It’s a small race located at a beautiful park in Chester, NH. It’s not the race with the biggest attendance, toughest obstacles, or steepest hills, but it’s a great 5K and features 24 obstacles. The best part, in my opinion, is that 100% of profits are donated to local charities.

Like most races, parking is not allowed on site. The parking lot is about 2 miles away, with shuttle buses running fairly regularly. The check-in process was smooth and fast, with volunteers who were polite and smiling. Bib numbers were posted at the entrance, a table was provided for signing waivers, bibs and timing chips were obtained at the next table, and t-shirts and swag bags were at the last table. Multilapping is allowed for $10 per lap, and even has its own table to make it a very easy process. Bag check is free and there are several vendor tables. The local fire station sells burgers, which smell great even at 8:30 am. There is no medal at this event. However, you’ll find water, several types of fruit, and cheese sticks at the finish line. There are plenty of porta-potties and there is a large changing tent. The swag bag was actually really impressive. Now, I usually peek into a swag bag, see that it’s mostly flyers and maybe a sticker, and throw the whole thing in the recycling bin. This bag has a few flyers and stickers, but it also has a cooling towel, 3 pens, a pad of paper, one of those sticks that has the anti-itch stuff that you can use on a bug bite, and a set of ear buds. Seriously, this is the first swag bag I was happy to open for a long time!

Although it is a very small race, the first wave is competitive and offers a cash prize to the winners. After that, waves go off every 20 minutes, including the final 3 waves which are considered family waves. Bring your kids as young as 8 years old! The waves were on time all day and the course was rarely crowded. In fact, the only time a crowd tends to form on this course is when a large group is trying to stay together. I’ve found that these groups tend to be very happy to let smaller groups pass by.

While the obstacles aren’t generally as tough as at some of the bigger races, there are some challenges on course. There is a set of monkey bars, an overhead pipe traverse, a sandbag carry, and an inverted wall.

They have an option of climbing a rope or a cargo net, with the rope climb being made a bit more difficult by being just after a water crossing. They have an obstacle called “wobbly docks”, which is four or five small docks roped together across a shallow bit of water. They look quite tricky, and people do fall in, but they are completely doable as long as you keep moving. While there is no real mud on the course, there is a water crossing where you’ll get wet above your knees, and there is a slide into the water where you’ll get completely wet. There is a crawl through the sand earlier in the race, though, so you’ll be happy to wash some of the sand off in the pond. Every obstacle was well built and sturdy, and there was at least one volunteer stationed at every obstacle. There is one water station placed strategically so that racers will pass by twice. The course does zig-zag a lot, so it’s easy to spot friends on the course even if you’re not racing together. Altogether, the gently rolling hills through the beautiful woods and the fun obstacles make this quite an enjoyable race.

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Featured Review: Tuff Scramblers – May 2018

Tuff Scramblers in Rehoboth, MA is a challenging, fun, and unique event. It is a 5k course spread over 140 aches with over twenty natural and man made obstacles that offers an experience you’re not likely to find at other events.

This race is a bit of a drive for me, but it’s a drive I’m willing to make because it’s such a great time. It is easy to find, clearly marked by signs directing athletes to the field to park. Parking was within a stone’s throw to where the Registration tent was.

There was a long back up at registration. It was very slow moving and when I got to the table, I was able to see why. There was only one person running the registration table. This meant that she was dealing with bib pick-up, wristbands, t-shirts, day of registration, and any questions. She was trying to be as efficient as possible, but it was clearly overwhelming for her. It is possible that volunteers slated for the Registration tent had not come, however it is something that maybe a volunteer from another location could have been pulled at least for the early morning rush.

From the registration tent, athletes followed along the dirt road into the festival area. To the left was the changing tents and showers followed by an area where larger teams had been given space to set up a meeting place. To the right there was a man creating chainsaw sculptures that were for sale – he was also responsible for making the pretty epic first place trophies for the elite wave. Also to the right was the makings of a bonfire, though wind deterred the Tuff Scramblers team from igniting it. There were tables set up by the Army,Air Force, and National Guards. There was also a large tent where participants could go to exchange their food and beer ticket then hang out while spectating other runners. The festival area is a low key setup, however it has excellent access to a bunch of the fun obstacles for spectating.

Tuff Scramblers has a course unlike any other I have ever seen. It incorporates trails that at times become single track, weave through the woods, through streams, then back out to the open layout near the festival. In the woods is where participants find most of the natural occurring obstacles. There are plenty of rock formations to scramble over, streams to trudge through, and rocky terrain to hop across. For the most part the course was well marked with pink flags, tape, and paint. However, there were a few who got turned around or missed a turnoff and accidentally cut a small portion of the course. I believe that it was early in the race around the first two hills in the woods, but after that point all the course markers were easily located. There were two water stations on course and the volunteers there were cheery and engaged with the runners as they made their pit stop.

As advertised, you will not find the typical rope climbs and walls at Tuff Scramblers that you may find at other races. Participants will find large sand and clay piles as well as two boulder piles to crawl over. There are walls and an a-frame made of large PVC piping, as well as concrete pillars to jump across. Much of the obstacles that can be found at Tuff Scramblers are created using construction materials. Another thing that should be noted that on this course you will get wet and you will get muddy. Whether it be through a pool of muddy water, of climbing some of the obstacles that have water spraying down at you. The race ends, bringing the participants through a small brook, with about thigh deep to waist deep water. Once you climbed out a bit down the way, there were two options to finish the race. Participants could choose to swim across the pond or take the land route. The pond had a downward slope before it got a bit deep. For someone of average height you could not just walk across. It then had a small incline back out and brought you straight to the finish line.

The shirts from Tuff Scramblers are one of my favorite race shirts. It is a soft tech shirt sporting the Tuff Scramblers name on the front. On the back has the date and location of the event as well as a statement that they proudly support the various branches of military and the EMS team that was present at the event. The medal ribbon displays the date and location of the event, which is always a nice bonus.

After runners finished they were treated to food and drink. You could use your Beer ticket to exchange for a beer or non-alcoholic beverage. As someone who does not drink beer, I appreciated this because I could exchange my ticket for an iced tea. Those who do enjoy beer had a variety of Narragansett beers that they could pick from. Runners get quite the treat when they finish Tuff Scramblers because they also get post-race food included in their registration. We got two sliders with either pulled pork or sausage and peppers, a salad, and a choice of two different types of baked beans. The food was excellent and really hit the spot afterwards.

Over all, despite a few very minor kinks between registration and course marking, this is still one of my favorite events. It offers such a unique experience and atmosphere. The shirts being my all time favorite, is simply a bonus.

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Featured Review: FIT Challenge X

The team at F.I.T. Challenge has become known for their top notch small venue events, each one becoming bigger and better. F.I.T. X was no different. Their events feature innovative obstacles, challenging terrain, and elevation all spread a bit over three miles.

When registering for F.I.T. X, Participants had a choice of three different levels of racing. There was a one lap option that had both an elite wave as well as many open waves. Second, they offered a five hour multilap where a runner could complete multiple laps in a five hour window. The third option, being their newest, offered a twelve hour Ultra.

F.I.T. Challenge has taken the concept of multilapping and continued to build upon it. The idea to offer a multilap feature may seem daunting to some race directors, but this is something that Robb McCoy had flourished with. In the past F.I.T. Challenge has offered variations on multilapping, but this April they unveiled an Ultra. It consisted of running as many laps of their 3.3 mile course in twelve hours.

The F.I.T. Challenge Ultra participants, identified by Ultra Bibs, had a unique experience compared to the regular Multilap option. They received a total of three laps obstacle free. The first being their second lap, followed by two more at some point throughout the day. As long as they were wearing their orange armband, they could pass obstacles for that entire lap. After 6pm all obstacles were shut down, leaving the remaining two hours and fifteen minutes obstacle free as well.

Leading up to race day, there were nearly a thousand runners registered. This alone attests to the reputation that the F.I.T. Challenge team has worked to build.

F.I.T.X took place in Cumberland, Rhode Island, at Diamond Hill State Park. Robb MCoy and his team expertly use the terrain to their advantage. With multiple climbes and descents an elevation of 1000 feet is squeezed out of Diamond Hill throughout the 3.3 mile course. There is a mix of technical, rocky, trrails as well as some single track sections. But the most important piece to note is how well marked the race is. The trails are marked with green tape, flags, and arrows. It is near impossible to get lost on a track that this team has laid out. Spread throughout the course athletes found over thirty obstacles.

There is a wide range of obstacles for all skill levels. From low crawls and heavy carries to the Destroyer series and the newly unveiled Devil’s playground. The minds behind some of their devilishly innovative obstacles keep athletes coming back for more. Other obstacles that could be found on course included floating walls, an upside down cargo net you must climb a rope to reach, peg boards, and a teeter totter. There is absolutely something to challenge everyone.

As mentioned above, a new obstacle made its debut this past weekend. From a concept Aaron Farb introduced with the swinging steps on their Devil Steps obstacle at a past event. After a discussion with Larry Cooper the design that was debuted at F.I.T. X was born, including the adjustment where the athlete had to start from the ground. Devil’s Playground was a terrifying delight for runners. It is a metal apparatus that has swinging steps that the athlete must climb up. There were four lanes, one for Elite runners and three for Open Wave runners. The athlete had to start from the ground, grabbing each swinging step up the a-frame then back down. The swinging steps upped the difficulty of an already challenging obstacle. You are only allowed to touch the green parts, touch the black and you had to go back. The difference between the open lanes and the elite being that the elite had a smaller hold to grip on each swinging step.

Outside of the course, F.I.T. Challenge had a buzzing festival area. There was merchandise available for purchase as well as outside vendors. Some of the vendors that could be found in the festival area included Sage Nutrition and Warm-Up Nutrition, both locally based companies. OCR Beast was also present. Baystate Physical Therapy was onsite to offer stretching and massage to help athletes throughout the day. Food was also available for purchase onsite presented by Boru BBQ.

The team at F.I.T. Challenge take safety quite seriously. There was one section of technical terrain that race director Robb McCoy was monitoring closely. For the sake of the athletes participating in this event a decision was made to shift the course slightly. While it took a strenuous and technical piece of course out, the transition was seamless and gave no interruption to the main event. This did not appear to remove or add any mileage to the course.

As a whole, the F.I.T. Challenge team obviously cares about their runners. They work to ensure that problems are dealt with in a timely manner. Whether it is leading up to or on race day, they put forth the extra effort to reach their full potential. Not only to the athletes who train and make this type of event their whole lifestyle, but the casual athletes as well. There were many runners at F.I.T. X who had participated in F.I.T. or Obstacle racing before. However, there were many first timers. No matter who is in attendance F.I.T. X delivers.

Communication is a strong point to note for F.I.T. Challenge. Leading up to F.I.T. X the team provided ample communication across social media platforms and email. If you follow any of their social media accounts you were also able to see the fun being had at volunteer shifts for build days as well as sneak peeks of Devil’s Playground.

Something else that F.I.T. Challenge is known for is the race day swag they offer. Not only for purchase, but what you get for participating in their event. F.I.T. X upped the ante. At this event participants received a nice tech tee, buff, and F.I.T. X medal. Those who multilapped received a numbered pin to commemorate the number of laps completed. If a multilapper completed three or more laps of the course, they were also awarded with a block that prominently displays their achievement. Those blocks have become a long standing goal for many who participate in any of F.I.T. Challenge’s events. Participants in the 12-hour Ultra event received all the same perks as well as some Ultra specific swag. They had customizable bibs to identify on course as Ultra, a 10 ounce sweatshirt, and an Ultra tech tee. For those who completed at least 8 laps also received a belt buckle.

Overall, it is understandable why F.I.T. Challenge is a fan favorite and F.I.T. X did not disappoint. Robb McCoy and his team continues to present OCR Athletes reason to return to F.I.T. events. Not only were athletes presented with an amazing race, swag, and experience, they are in the hands of a race director and team who truly care about the athletes.

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Featured Review: Bermuda Triple Challenge

Who is up for a Racecation?  The Bermuda Triple Challenge is 3 days of OCR spread across the beautiful Island of Bermuda.  You get to experience the real flavor of Bermuda while racing though the original capital of the island, across one of its most beautiful beaches, and around the updated dockyard.  All as part of a charity event for a variety of Bermuda programs.

The Challenge is made up of 3 different races run over three days including an OCR Worlds qualifier.  Each race has its own feel with very almost no obstacle repeat.  There were a lot of familiar obstacles like wall climbs, barb wire crawls, and under/overs but also some unique obstacles I hadn’t seen before.

Here is some general info before I break down the races.  Starting with Swag, all competitors got a pretty nice tech shirt.  They made an effort to ensure that all overseas entrants were ensured a shirt by emailing a few days in advanced and asking your size.  Completing each race earned you a medal piece that all fit together into a nice medal.  There was also sponsor swag handed out at the first two races and food at the last two.

You could enter as an individual or as part of a team.  There were different rules for each as there was a winner for each type of competition.  Individuals ran alone, had a timing chip, and had to complete obstacles or pay a penalty.  For an individual to remain in contention for the podium, they had to complete all three races including 2 laps on Saturday.

Teams ran together and could share obstacle work i.e. one person had to do the weighted carry and they could switch off.  Also, only one person on a team wore a chip and the team had to cross the finish line together.  Teams also had a fund raising component and earned points for the championship based on how much money they raised ($1 = 1 point)

The official hotel for the race is the Fairmount Southampton where they had a special rate for athletes.  This is a beautiful high end hotel located centrally on the island about 2 miles from Saturday’s race.  It was also really close to the Thursday night welcome party ($60 ea) for racers.  A free shuttle bus to all the races is provided from the Fairmount but you are on your own to get back.  I didn’t stay here choosing another hotel that my wife and I liked.  We used the very easy to use Bus/Ferry system to get to the races on Friday and Sunday and took a cab on Saturday.  Speaking to some others, many people had really good luck with AirBnB to save some money.

In addition to the Welcome Party, there was an Island tour on Friday and a Sunset Boat Cruise on Sunday available for racers for an extra fee.

The Argus Urban Foot Race

This is a 3k race through St. George held on Friday night (started about 7:30) so it was dark by the time you finished.  St. George is one of the oldest parts of Bermuda so you ran through windy narrow streets surrounded by old architecture.  It was really nice.

There were a lot of familiar obstacles on the race including a version of the Destroyer (Larry Cooper and his wife were there running) but there were also a fair amount of CrossFit style stations.   Over the course of the race we had to do a tire drag, tire flips, superman burpees, and a long downhill bear crawl.  There was also a bouncy castle to climb through and a cargo net thrown over a bus.  In total there were about 20 obstacles over the short course.

This race was fast and fun as it ran up and down the main street full of bar.  So there were a lot of spectators cheering you on.  After the race, there was DJ in the square and all the bars stayed open.

The Sun Life Island Challenge

This race was Saturday morning and began at Warwick Camp home to the Bermuda Regiment and across the street from Bermuda’s best beaches (Horseshoe Bay).  The course was advertised as a 5k loop but it’s probably a little longer.  Teams ran one lap.  For Individuals, You earned your medal piece after one lap but to run for the podium or to try and qualify for the OCRWC, you had to run 2 laps.  For reference I was told that most people only did one lap.

The terrain played a large part in this race. You spent a lot of time running and doing obstacles in soft sand.  The obstacles were pretty familiar with a couple of standouts.  There were 3 weighted carries, one was along the beach, one went down the beach and up the bluff and back down, and the third went up the steepest part of the bluff to the top and you got to drop the weight there and run back down.  All the carries were long.  The big standouts were running into the surf up to your waist and “running” parallel to the shore for a couple hundred yards, a really long and fast slip and slide, and after you leave the beach to head back to the camp, you take detour to run through the Bermuda Regiment’s permanent Challenge course.  This was really fun and included a 40ft slat wall climb, some crawls, balance beams, and a rope swing.  After that you ran to the finish line.

After the race, there was a BBQ on the parade grounds and racers got their first burger free.  There was also Ice Cream Available.

Chubb Royal Challenge

This was a 5k race though the Royal Naval Dockyard.  The dockyard has been redeveloped to be a Cruise port so there are shops and restaurants but there is an old fort and prison that you get to know pretty well.

This race included swimming and they were very clear that if you weren’t a good swimmer don’t get in the water.  The did offer pool noodles to swim with if you wished but there were opt out penalties for all the swims, 15-30 burpees and some extra running.

The swims were:

1)      A 15 ft jump off a stone pier into the marina and a 100 yd swim to the other side.  This was the first obstacle of the race after about a ¼ mile run.

2)      A rope swing off a pier then swim to a ladder.  If you swung well, you entered the water near the ladder.

3)      A rope traverse between two piers.  Until last year, no one had ever made it the whole way so you went as far as you could and swam the rest of the way.

4)      A jump into the water with a swim to a bunch of inflatable obstacles.  I was told this was supposed to be a zip line but the cargo container used as the start point was put in the wrong place.  I was promised it would be a zip line next year.


Other obstacle highlights include a putting challenge (make the putt or do burpees), a pop quiz (get the right answer to a multiplication question or do burpees), and a spear throw.  The spear throw was different than Spartan.  You had to land the spear in a circle sticking in the ground.  Sounds easy but with the wind it was a challenge.

The course itself was a lot of fun.  Besides running along the piers, you run around the old prison and climbed to the roof.  There was long log carry around the entire top of one of the fortifications by all the cannons, the view was amazing.

After finishing the race in the Victualing Yard of the fort, they had a really great buffet for all the races including eggs and bacon, fruit, and roast beef.  The Yard became a big BBQ and party as tons of racers and spectators gathered to watch people finish.

Overall this event was awesome. The four guys in charge were friendly and checked in with us before during and after the races to make sure we were having fun or to see if we had any problems.  Bermudians are known to be friendly anyway but the race volunteers including members of the Regiment were awesome.  Everyone one of them from the young kids to the base commander were cheering us on and offering words of encouragement.

Prizes were given to both individuals and teams (although team winners were announced later due to the fund raising component).  For Individuals, awards were given to the top 3 Masters (40 and over) Men and Women, and top 3 overall Men and Women.  Prizes were Bermudian Rum and Cash.  There was some strong competition among the winners and a strong representation on the podium (and overall) from the Spartan 4-0 team.  While it was fun hanging out with them on the tour and after races, I’m hoping to see more Spahtens next year because it’s more fun with family. Plus I think some of you could hang with the podium crowd especially some of our awesome women.  If it helps convince you, the woman who came in 3rd overall claims to have never run OCR before this, she was a road racer and her husband convinced her to run.

We had the best time running these races.  The different feel for each race, the challenge of the terrain, and the varied obstacle made this a great event.  The flight home was full of racers and we were all talking about making reservations for next year.  I would highly recommend that you add this to your racing bucket list.

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Shale Hill, Polar Bear Challenge 2018

This is year 6 for Polar Bear Challenge – and a whole bevy of new people got to come to Shale Hill and figure out what we’ve all been talking about for the last half a decade.

The basics – Shale Hill is a fixed course, based about 30 minutes away from Killington, in the sleepy little town of Benson, VT. It has all the physical challenges of an award winning permanent training venue, with none of the huge marketing budget. Shale Hill is simply the best grass roots obstacle course experience you can get in the North East, maybe even the entire US.

Which is why we go back to the Polar Bear Challenge every year. Because the short walk across the field from your parked car to the barn is lit up by bonfires, and looks amazing. Because check in takes seconds, and once she knows you, co-owner Jill greets you by name. Because no matter what mother nature throws at him, Rob is always running around and building something new, or having a talk with a competitive racer about technique, or a joke to put the casual runners at ease. Because the local restaurant ensures there’s a never ending supply of hot bacon and coffee (and sure, some other food) going in the barn all day.

Because you’re always greeted by people who care very deeply about their event, and their sport – and in the OCR world of big box races and big brand sponsorship – that shows.

I’m not going into each obstacle. There were old favorites, and new challenges. As always, they were built well, sometimes quite intimidating and for those of us who run Journeyman – always optional. NEVER be scared of coming to Shale Hill because it’s “too hard”, as the Journeyman option lets you pick your own challenges and do the things you are confident in, and try the others with no penalty.

There were two major changes for the 2018 season.

A new course layout – as we heard on our podcast interview with Rob a week prior, he had put a significant amount of effort into changing the course – and it was entirely different. I also know that he had major problems with the wind blowing down the course tape the previous day, but can happily say that by the time I got there, everything was up, clearly marked – and there was only one time I saw someone off course, and they had entirely missed a really clear arrow pointing in the right direction.

The new course mapped out to about the same distance – just shy of 6.5 miles in this case. Efforts were made to get some of the bigger, more challenging obstacles into the front part of the course, to give the competitive crew a bit more of a shot of completion on the really difficult stuff. This meant that the previously uphill monkey bars were down downhill monkey bars – and I think that worked out just fine for most. As someone who has run many many laps on the “old” course, I didn’t get lost once!

The next big difference was in the competitive penalty system. Due to the nature of the Polar Bear Challenge – and it’s temperatures – penalties have always been done by picking up a chip at a failed obstacle, then “cashing in” for a penalty when you arrived back at the end of your first lap – but, for 2018 there were only 3 stations like that. Everywhere else, if you chose to “fail” the obstacle (you could attempt it as often as you like), you had to run back to the previous obstacle that you fully completed. This could mean a short jog back to a tough obstacle, or it could mean a long trot back to an easy obstacle. Once you had run back, done the last obstacle, you could turn around, come on back, and “touch and go” through the tougher one you chose to fail. I didn’t run journeyman, but it seemed to flow well.

The biggest theme of the day though? Ice.

It’s a winter race, so duh, it’s going to be cold – but this was one of the coldest renditions of Polar Bear Challenge I’ve experienced (the only one colder being year one, which stayed around 10f for the whole day) – but, with that cold we also had ice. Lots of ice. Ice everywhere. There were several slopes and hills that were only safely traversed on your butt, or riding a log!

So many people skip this event. Considering Shale Hill “too far” (tell that to the guys from Texas here for the event) or too hard (many of us only ever do one lap!) or too cold (I always finish a sweaty mess) – Shale Hill should not be missed and like all local events, support them, or you’ll lose them.

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Featured Review: Rugged Maniac, MA 2017

My first Rugged Maniac was 8 years ago, in 2010. I remember complaining really hard, because the advertised 5k distance was completed quicker than I could run a 5k road race. I went back in 2011 and 2012, both events held before the now famous Shark Tank appearance – and I just never went back. Other races, longer distances, bigger challenges.

But this year, I got to interview Kaitlyn Greenleaf, the director of race operations for Rugged Maniac for The NE Spahtens Show, and I realizes it was time I went back, and checked out for myself just how much they have grown and changed since the early days of both Rugged Maniac, and the early days of OCR.

Spoiler: I’m really *really* glad I did.

The Rugged Maniac of 2017 occupies that space in OCR frequently called “Beginner friendly” or “entry level” – but frankly, the terrain at Motorcross 338, the birthplace of Rugged Maniac back in 2010 kicked my ass. Rolling motorcross sand hills, and relentless heat this past weekend wore me down far more than I expected. The obstacles though, firmly in the “fun but challenging” realm – nothing crazy, nothing ridiculous and no penalties.

As a venue, I see why they keep coming back. It’s relatively easy to find, and plenty of onsite parking, thats 1/2 the price of the competition. They run their festival area down the main access road, and keep things easy to find. While the crowds were dense at times, the festival was always hopping – a solid MC on stage, running competitions all day (both fitness and fun – from pull up competitions to pie eating!). Plenty of portapotties, a hose down station, changing rooms – a super smooth checking and registration process too. Rugged HQ were kind enough to let us pitch tents for the rather large number of Spahtens registered over the weekend, and the onsite beer was excellent, with the venue also putting on several different food options. But lets not forget the star attraction for this particular venue – spectator access. You can go almost anywhere on course, or simply hang out in the stadium seating with a fantastic view of the whole motorcross park.

When I look back over my 2010, 2011 and 2012 Rugged Maniac outings – the obstacles are *generally* the same – but in the same way a family compact car is the same as a sports sedan – both are cars, both get the groceries – but one is infinitely more fun. Same here – back in the early days, I have vivid memories of Rugged struggling to keep fire jumps burning all day – this weekend, there were three, blazing high in a row – and another one fed by propane in front of a water pit. The water slide back then was barely little more than a tarp on some boards into hip deep water – this year, there were two, both massive, both fast, both smooth and cleanly depositing you into water traps that slowed you down effectively.

How’s that for a view?

Rugged’s start line MC was awesome – spending a few minutes each wave to ask people with cleats (ie: metal tips on their shoes) to step out of the coral in case they burst or rip the inflatable obstacles – and, kind enough to give the Spahtens in many of the waves over two days a shout out – having an MC who’s aware of who he’s sending out and actually explain safety and rules? Good show.

A solid 3.5 miles, and s is typical, I won’t go into a blow by blow of each obstacle – you can see Nicole’s excellent Community Review here, and she always does an excellent job describing them. But for me, a couple of highlights.

There was a simple wall climb early on. Maybe 5′. But, Rugged added a bar to the top, with a section of PVC pipe – a small addition that made an otherwise boring wall much more tricky. These little touches were through out the course.
The slides! If you listen to the podcast, you know how much I hate slide. Did both of them anyway. No epiphany moment, I still hate slides, but I did them both.
Lots of crawls, most of them with cool water that was appreciated on such an unusually sunny day.

Steve and I were #twinning hard that day …

Ultimately – we finished having completed 25 or so really fun, really well built obstacles. Some tougher than others, some more fun than others – all built well, all you could walk right by if you chose to do so – and all on those damn sandy hills that make up Motorcross 338 and burn your legs and lungs out quickly.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also thank Rugged Maniac for getting involved with our #racelocal program – we operate this annually, encouraging people to participate in the best of the New England OCR scene – and Rugged Maniac grew up right here in MA, are still headquartered here in MA, and helped us with a unique multi-lap across both days program, were super accommodating when people needed to adjust wave times, or run with their Spahten buddies.

So – if you’re new to OCR, Rugged Maniac is for you. If you’re an OCR veteran, who’s burned out of the long distance competitive stuff – Rugged Maniac is fun, entertaining, and may remind you why you loved OCR to begin with. Huge thumbs up from me – and I plan on being back in 2018!

[P_REVIEW post_id=20759 visual=’yes’] Do you have your own views? Leave a Community Review here!

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Featured Review: Savage Race, Maryland

As we’re all aware, Savage Race had an awesome showing here in New England – and Steve was immediately interested in heading down to their Maryland event to find out if that showing was a fluke. As you’ll read, it certainly wasn’t!

This past weekend I ventured the 5.5 plus hours down to Kennedyville, Maryland to participate in the Savage Races Maryland fall race. The venue was easy to find. Parking was $10 and on site. A short 2-3 minute walk brought you to the entrance/check in, passing 8 port-o-johns. A premium parking option was also available for $25, and basically got you within feet of the entrance/check in area. After check in you walk thru the merchandise area into the festival area. The festival area was neither too big nor too small. The start line was on one end and the finish was on the other. In between there was a stage, two different BBQ vendors, a shaved ice vendor, the ubiquitous beer tent, a gear drop for $5, the Syndicate tent, a Krave jerky vendor, some extra obstacles to test yourself on, about 25 port-o-johns, and a few more location specific vendors.

Our start time was 1pm, though we went off closer to 1:20pm, due to the awards ceremony. We were given an apology because they only had one DJ at the venue this weekend, as the second one was still in Florida dealing with the hurricane. Pre-sendoff speech was given to get everyone in the correct frame of mind and we were off. The terrain was different from what I am used to, most areas had room enough for 3-4 runners to run side by side. Hardly any single track or technical trails here, folks. It was mostly run on grass and well-worn trails. We started on grass and ran for about three quarters of a mile before we encountered our first obstacle. This was the longest we had to wait for an obstacle for the entire 6.5 mile race. The terrain was well used; including flowing river beds on more than one occasion and to good effect.

The obstacles: what can I say? All were well built, sturdy, and fun. Some of the obstacles we did see were: Shriveled Richard (little kid in me is laughing even now), sawhorses, slippery incline, Big Ass Cargo, Sawtooth (the distance between the last bottom sawtooth rung and the top rung to start the downwards monkey bars made this one of the hardest monkey bar rigs I’ve attempted yet), Hangerang, Lumberjack Lane, Davy Jones Locker (fun, fun, fun), Wheel World, Colossus, and the Savage rig, among others. A few that we didn’t see in Massachusetts included Twin Peaks, and a unique slip wall with slats that you can grip or wedge yourself up to the top. Savage Race has shown great innovation and originality in their obstacles that make them incredibly refreshing among big brand races.

After about 6.5 miles the race was over, smiles on everyone around. You were given a medal, a shirt, and a bottle of water for crossing the finish line. Headed over to the Syndicate tent to pick up an amazingly huge spinning medal and corresponding state pins, for completing two races (for me it was Massachusetts and Maryland). We cleaned up and changed, however the one small gripe I have, and it is really small, is that the changing tents and the showers were too far away from the festival area. You had to walk to the other side of the parking lot, the furthest point away from the festival to clean off and change. But like I said it is a small gripe. Then we headed over to the beer tent for the free beer, which was Coors light, but you could “upgrade” to Blue Moon for $1 if you preferred. Additional beers were available for a nominal price. We hung around the slowly ending festival for a while where I ate pulled pork tacos and Beef brisket nachos from one of the food vendors and was very happy I did, while enjoying our beers and the atmosphere.

All in all I had an amazing time at the Maryland Fall Savage Race; great race, great company, good food. I would recommend this race and venue to anyone. I am looking forward to next year’s Massachusetts race, and possibly a few others. Great job Savage Race!!

Do you want to run the 2018 Savage Race in MA with the New England Spahtens? Scan the QR Code, or click and join us!

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Featured Review: FIT at the Ridge

Thanks to Niki for the Featured Review, of the 9th FIT Challenge, and the first in some time at a brand new venue!

This past weekend the 9th F.I.T. Challenge obstacle course race took place, but at a brand new venue, bringing us to the fourth venue for this series. The past six Challenges have taken place at what director and NE Spahten member, Robb McCoy, has turned into an elevation dense Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland, Rhode Island, and moved to the quiet town of Middlefield, Connecticut and gave Powder Ridge (Ski) Park a try. FIT Challenge has found itself a core group of followers, and continuously has the support of 100+ Spahtens, making us the biggest team, and we followed Robb and crew to Connecticut to see what he could do with a mini mountain instead of a hill.

What should come as no surprise, the new venue did not disappoint. FIT Challenge is known for its great communication and easy access to the key event coordinators, that most Spahtens know well and love; Aaron Farb, hanging obstacle mastermind, Scott Sweeney, volunteer coordinator guru, Jen Lee, snack eater, I mean, entertainer, I mean… assistant RD, so we’ll just skip straight to the day of event. The hardest thing about Powder Ridge is that it is arguably, in the middle of nowhere. It is 2 hours on the dot away from Diamond Hill, so this is a big change for the race, and the distance definitely kept some locals from making the long drive, which was a mistake to those who decided the new venue too far. Much like Diamond Hill, parking was right on site, $10, and an easy walk to where everything was going on. Start and finish was at the base of the hill and the multi-lap drop area was in between. The venue’s lodge was open and the bathrooms were too. The lodge also had a sit-down restaurant on the second floor and there was an outdoor grill available with plenty of tables to enjoy it at. At the end of the race you could hop in the small pond or go rinse off as well. In terms of venue offerings and parking, I found Powder Ridge far superior to Diamond Hill.

However, that is all perks, but let’s talk about the REAL reason we show up to FIT; the race. As usual, this race nailed it. There is a reason it is the best small series race out there. The obstacles are unique, challenging, fun, and the theme behind the race, Fortitude, Integrity, and Toughness, means you challenge yourself the best you can, and if you can’t complete something, then that is OK as long as you gave your best. The race started off with a half mile climb up the mountain, and it was a good climb, but the slope here is gentler than Diamond Hill, and I found it more enjoyable, even if longer, than what I’m used to at FIT. Once to the top, we were greeted with a vertical cargo net – double up- vertical cargo net mash up within 250′ of each other, and unfortunately with the size of the multilap waves, there was a bit of back-up at each obstacle. While the climb did spread out the wave well, both types of obstacles only allow 2 people on the obstacle at any given time and by the time I was getting onto the double up, the front runners of the second wave a multilappers were running up on the back of the first wave, continuing the back-up here. From there we meandered our way down the mountain, on mostly bike/quad sized trails, where we encountered most of the well known obstacles, such as the teeter totters, rope climb, peg board, and the newly changed monkey cargo net traverse, which had gotten significantly harder with a rope climb to the net. Unfortunately, even though this was far enough into the race to have spread out runners, the difficulty and 2 lanes of the monkey cargo net traverse cause significant backup, with a solid 10 minute wait and only 1 try available. This obstacle has always seen back-up, but the difficulty change definitely made it worse.

Added back to this year, at the bottom of the mountain, was a PT area put on by EPIC hybrid gym. Here we saw very lively volunteers from the gym guide us through tire slams, elevated push-ups, and tire flips with a ball slam. This really brought me back to old school FIT races where we had a whole field of PT exercises to complete put on by a local crossfit gym. I found the energy and the amount of “obstacles” here to be just right. From there we hit a 3 section, 6 lane rig with varying difficulty, to the Destroyer 2.0, before the second full mountain climb started. This climb, however, was interrupted 1/3 of the way up by a log carry back down and up, a crawl, the infamous floating wall at the very top, and then we finished, with the inverted ladder wall second to last, and the original Destroyer as the very last obstacle, mere feet from the finish.

Many runners did not end here. There were over 230 multilap runners signed up for FIT. Another thing to commend FIT on is how well they do multilap. The drop area was HUGE this year, about a 25 square yard sectioned off area right in between the start and finish lines. The only time the area felt crowded was right before the race started. Right by the entrance to the are the multilap table was set up with two volunteers checking in and out the runners, then giving out the pins and blocks as runners finished. It was incredible simple and fairly seamless. Not to mention you could refuel on the well stocked candy and Tailwind available. On display right behind the table were the well known blocks that indicateshow many laps a runner completed after 3, complete with a nail gun compressor, blank blocks, and extra numbers to ensure they did not run out of any numbered block, and to accommodate the higher number of laps that might be completed in the extended 8 hour race over the previous 5 hour. Also a twist on this year was that after 3pm (last lap must be started by 4pm) the race became obstacle free for multilappers, with the exception of the wreckbag carry and the log carry. At the end of your race, you turned in your timing device, got a medal, headed to the multilap table, paid up $10 for every lap after your second, then got your spoils. This is how you do multilap.

Overall, the race was well done. It wasn’t without hiccups, and the only major hiccups I saw were the obstacle backups, but that can be expected at any new venue and learning the running patterns at an inaugural event. As always, FIT Challenge does it right. They have some of the best obstacles, best staff, best swag (this year we moved to tank tops, so you can show your biceps instead of point them out), and the best philosophies of any race. If you thought the drive was too far, then you genuinely missed out. I can only see FIT Challenge, as they always have, continuously improving from here, and continue being one of the best small series race you can do.

Photo credit: Dan Parker
Did you run FIT Challenge? What did you think? Leave a community review here!

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Featured Review: Savage Race 2017

New England is – for lack of a more appropriate word – a mature OCR market. Many big names had their start here, then moved onto other regions, and our local OCR game is strong.

Which means it’s a rare thing for us to be able to enjoy a new brand, and rarer still when that new brand is already established, already developed and has a following we’ve not really had chance to be part of.

Savage Race finally arrived in New England.

This has been on the cards for some time. They’ve been trying to get a foot hold, and for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened, since 2013. After talking to the people at Carter & Steven’s Farm last year – they had a venue – and Saturday we got to see what they were all about.

For many races – reviews like this start on the morning of the event – but with Savage Race, we got to not only have founder and CEO Sam Abbit on The NE Spahtens Show twice in the lead up, but we also got to sit down for dinner with him and his team on Thursday night – a great chance to get to know the people who make Savage Race happen. We also swung over on Friday to setup a couple of popup tents, and enjoyed some Stone Cow Brewery beverages, BBQ, met more of the team and Farmer Phil took us on a tour of the farm in his Cool Bus – a 6 wheel, 30 seat off road monster.

Got bus? Cool bus!

So pulling into the venue on Saturday morning, a place I personally know well from many ice cream runs and prior events – we already felt that sense of familiarity that many events still don’t have. Parking was off site, and while there was plenty of local parking in people’s front yards, there were zero reported problems with the remote lot and the shuttle buses – a short ride to the venue and a walk down the main entrance road – and into the Savage Race experience.

Check-in opened later than we’re used to, and many of us showed up well before they were letting people check in at 8am. The lines moved quickly though, and no one missed their wave times – and into a big, open space of a festival. Can I just say – having seen a couple of other brands using the same space – THIS is the way to do it. For the other races, the festivals were cramped, with large tents dropped in the middle and stepping over guy ropes all the time – Savage had a huge open space – stage and finish line at one end, all the vendors forming the outer border. Open, spacious, easy to move around in. Also welcome, compared to other large brands – Savage were incredibly flexible with helping us as biggest team. We were grouped into a single wave, with flexibility for anyone who needed to simply hop in, no hassle. We were given our pick of spaces in the festival and early (the night before!) access to setup any number of tents we wanted.

Very *very* refreshing from a national OCR. This kind of easy going, athlete first nature is usually only seen on the local scene. Kudos, Savage.

The perfect obstacles, the perfect distance.

Big claims – claims that they put on all their marketing, their shirts and even the medals. And, claims they backup on the course, too.

Clocking in at around 7.5 miles, the distance was attainable by everyone – and took us to area’s of Carter & Steven’s Farm we’ve rarely, or never seen. The terrain was the expected gnarly, tricky trail – open field, wooded trail and lots and lots of mud. No elevation to speak of, which I, frankly, am fine with. A water stop every couple of miles (three total) and tons and tons of water available (all in bottles, which caused some comment – but they do recycle them!).

And, those obstacle. Oh boy.

There are two kinds of obstacles I don’t excel at. Rig style obstacles and water obstacles. Savage Race love both kinds. Of course, I wasn’t running Pro, which means I didn’t have a band to keep – and there are no Open wave penalties, so I knew I could pick and chose. In the Pro wave, there was a roughly 50/50 split between those who kept their bands, and those who did not.

But no penalties in Open waves is the way to go. You do what YOU want. What YOU are comfortable with – and other than some teasing from your buddies, it’s your race to run how you want.

Of the signature obstacles we did see – the Savage Rig, Shriveled Richard (which I actually enjoyed!), Davey Jones’ locker (15’ jump into a 15’ pool – no thanks!), Collosus (nope, nope, nope) – we also saw Twirly Bird, Wheel World, Squeeze Play, Pole Cat (loved this one!), Big Cheese – one of the more unique walls out there, Tree Hugger, Hangarang, Mad Ladders (nailed it!), Saw Tooth, Barn Door, several Mud ’n’ Guts crawls, Block Party (one of the only pure strength obstacles out there) – and a few more surprises.

See the full list –

On top of that – they were well spaced, incredibly well constructed – we had one back up early on, a result of a larger than normal Pro wave and our larger than normal team wave leaving so close to each other – it was quickly resolved once our team wave moved through.

At the finish line, a neat finisher shirt in a nice material, an awesome medal – and if you wanted to do another lap, a second medal, a huge spinning Syndicate medal and an MA state pin.

Not the finisher shirt, but the swag tent was epic too

All the usual stuff – great beer from Stone Cow Brewery, great food from Carter & Steven’s Farm and other vendors, Inov-8 were present and a well stocked Savage Race gear store – each handled well, flowed quickly (with the exception of bag check, ten minutes before our wave – I went twenty minutes before and was in and out in moments). Great volunteers (many of them NES members – thank you for giving up your time!).

(the kids race was great too!)

And, as I sit here on Sunday – not even 24h later – results have been sent to my inbox, many photos are ready (with more to come, we’re assured).

Savage Race – New England has waited a long long time to experience what you have to offer, and now we have it, you’ve got a new group of fans. I’ve just done something I never do – and registered for a race a year out – and registered my entire family.

See you back at Carter & Steven’s Farm, July 14th 2018. Click the very cold Robert and his Shriveled Richard to join us.

2018 event – team NE Spahtens

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